Rights activists, left-leaning politicians and civil society members today called upon the government to bring constitutional change recognising the country's ethnic minorities as 'indigenous'.
Addressing a webinar marking the United Nations-declared "International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples", they said such recognition of ethnic minorities was integral to ensuring and upholding their due rights and wellbeing.
Despite being citizens of the country and part of its diverse culture, ethnic minorities have been deprived of their rights, especially land rights. Several of their mother tongues are also facing risk of extinction, speakers said.
The webinar was part of a daylong programme organised by Bangladesh Adivasi Forum (BAF), upholding the day's significance.
The speakers urged the government to take effective steps to fully implement the 1998's peace accord signed between the government and regional political party Parbatya Chattogram Jana Sanghati Samiti, and make the CHT land commission formed under the accord fully functional.
Addressing the webinar, Transparency International Bangladesh Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said there is official directive that the word 'indigenous' cannot be used. "We talk about constitutional rights of the indigenous people. But first, they should be recognised and their identity must be upheld," he said.
Workers Party President Rashed Khan Menon said state recognition of the day and its observation nationally were important to uphold rights of ethnic minorities.
Bangladesh is a signatory of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals treaty and its core message is "leave no one behind", said Menon.
The country has to ensure the inclusion of ethnic minorities to fulfill SDG targets and also fulfill its constitutional obligations, he added.
Workers Party lawmaker and convener of the "parliamentary caucus on indigenous affairs" Fazle Hossain Badsha said the caucus had earlier placed a bill before the national parliament aiming for a constitutional change and inclusion of the word "indigenous" in the constitution.
The bill, however hasn't been discussed, he said. They will place a similar bill before the House in the future, he added.
Manusher Jonno Foundation Executive Director Shaheen Anam said rights groups have long been demanding for the recognition of ethnic minorities.
Recognition of ethnic minorities has to be ensured for their dignified livelihood and also for their due land right, said Shamsul Huda, executive director of Association for Land Reform and Development.
Dhaka University's Prof Sadeka Halim and Prof Mesbah Kamal, and BAF Central Committee Member Myentthein Promila, among others, addressed the webinar moderated by BAF General Secretary Sanjeeb Drong.